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The early definitions of head coach and priority reinforcement of the squad gave Palmeiras conditions to kick of the year in better shape than in a long time. After four rounds of the São Paulo championship, out of the 16 teams, only Palmeiras have a perfect score, having played Santo André (3-1); Botafogo (0-1); Red Bull Brasil (2-1) and Bragantino (0-2). On Sunday, an opponent of somewhat larger calibre awaits at the Allianz Parque in the shape of our playmaker Lucas Lima’s former club, Santos. Should be a great game to watch, with offensive football in abundance.

A few weeks back, we considered the Palmeiras squad readily assembled, informing that any additional newcomer, like Gustavo Scarpa, would materialize only should a particularly interesting opportunity arise. And so it did. The Brazilian judiciary freed Scarpa from his contract with Fluminense due to the Rio de Janeiro club’s non-fulfilment of contractual obligations and the attacking midfielder’s sudden availability on the market caused a fervour. With offers to pick and choose, Scarpa, like so many other quality players as of recent, opted to embark on the Green wagon, thrilled by the opportunity to play for Brazil’s currently most well-structured and realistically ambitious club. Scarpa signed a five-year contract a couple of weeks ago and should make his debut in our jersey mid-February. Welcome, Gustavo!
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While Palmeiras supporters rejoice with the consistent and meticulous construction of what, at least on paper, looks like a very strong title contender for 2018 and beyond, the Brazilian press seems less impressed. Although not even 14% of the club’s revenues last year originated from FAM/Crefisa, frequently Palmeiras are portrayed as “dependent on the sponsor”, an hostage even. In addition, smear and debauchery are launched on a daily basis against Palmeiras’ financial health, as if the club was miles ahead of everybody else (in fact, Flamengo top the revenues table, Palmeiras being the runners-up, closely followed by another two or three clubs). Palmeiras have a too qualified a squad, Palmeiras provoke unbalance in Brazilian football, Palmeiras lock the transfer market, Palmeiras’ sponsor deals yield too much (never mind Flamengo and Corinthians receive even larger additional amounts due to individually negotiated broadcasting rights), the list of complaints goes on and on.

It’s all bull, and the more of it we hear, the more we can be certain Palmeiras are on the right track. Brazilian press stopped caring about objectivity long ago, and that certainly includes many a sports journalist wearing a team jersey under the dress shirt like second skin. Keep on bashing you lot, we can take it. Expect return, with interest, in the shape of titles and more titles.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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With Grêmio’s draw last Sunday, a victory against relegation-prone Avaí would propel Palmeiras to second position in the tables, a position worth roughly US$ 1,2 million extra in prize money at the end of the championship. It would also increase Alberto Valentim’s chances of remaining as Palmeiras’ coach in 2018. At least slightly, at least in theory.

Once more, Palmeiras became the victim of Valentim’s attempts to implement an advanced line of defence. The idea is not at all revolutionary, but a satisfactory level of implementation is only possible to achieve with time. Clearly, Palmeiras are not there yet: as against Vitória, Palmeiras’ defence at times looked like on a suicide mission, allowing Avaí to score twice, minutes apart, at the beginning of the second half. Palmeiras’ much superior ball posse resulted in many attempts at goal but desperately few on target. Valentim also looked desperate, promoting Guerra with only a few minutes remaining on the clock. 

At the press conference after the game, Valentim voiced the opinion that Palmeiras had played a good game and lost due to two unfortunate moments. He also asserted he will act as coach, at Palmeiras or elsewhere, in 2018.
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Today, Palmeiras announced they will offer Valentim the assisting coach position he held before Cuca’s dismissal. In other words: Palmeiras have no intention of keeping Valentim in command next season. Valentim says he will respond to the offer after the championship has ended.

Palmeiras are clearly seeking to sign a new coach a.s.a.p. With Mano Menezes out of the picture, nine out of ten believe current Fluminense coach Abel Braga is the chosen one. The 65-year-old carioca is experienced, emotional, old school. With Internacional he won the Libertadores Cup and the World Club Championship in 2006 and in 2012 he won the Brasileirão with Fluminense.

A second option is 42-year-old Roger Machado, most recently at Atlético Mineiro, from where he was fired last July, after only six months at the club. As coach, Machado has no national titles on his CV.

What are the odds Abel would be successful at Palmeiras? Machado? Conrado Cacace of the Verdazzo argues it does not really matter, for as long as Palmeiras do not come up with a footballing identity.  

Palmeiras might have achieved excellence in many areas off pitch, including superior economic firepower and top notch training facilities, but the club has not yet established itself as a School of Football. The professional team is mutant: the style of play is a truthful mirror of the coach, a coach who on average lasts five months.

This situation is in stark contrast with, for example, Corinthians, who, even while enduring financial problems, maintain a well-defined playing style, as implemented by coach Tite in 2010 and adapted by his successors Mano Menezes, Tite (during his comeback) and most recently Fábio Carille. Cristóvão Borges tried to change that identity and was very short-lived. Cacace argues that one may question the beauty of the formula but not its efficiency: Corinthians have reaped excellent results even as coaches have changed and the squad has featured players of only satisfactory technical level. With doubt, this is due to the footballing identity created and implemented over time.

Creating a footballing identity takes time, and balls, because the coach needs to be maintained until that identity consolidates, even in the face of poor performance. Eduardo Baptista is a recent example of the opposite: at Palmeiras, he was securing some 60% of points at play and slowly deploying a system that could have been quite solid today. However, after the São Paulo Cup elimination, Baptista was fired and the ongoing identity development went down the drain.

There are no certainties in football. Keeping Baptista could have resulted in a team peaking in the last months of the championship, securing our tenth Brazileirão title. Or he could have remain stuck in the search for the balance between attack and defence, unable to secure even a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup. We will never know.

Regardless, Palmeiras need to create an identity, an identity that should serve as a mark also for the youth divisions. So, who to pick to implement this identity?

The name of the coach is not that important, Cacace argues. Palmeiras can assign a technical director, a position to be occupied in the long term by a deep connoisseur of football, who will be the reference, shaping the identity and securing that players that fit the model of play are signed. Something similar to what Paulo Autuori does at Atlético Paranaense and what Tite, although today not formally, continues to do at Corinthians. With a technical director in place, the importance of and the pressure on the coach will diminish.

No coach currently speculated at Palmeiras obtains more than a 30% approval rate among supporters, meaning any of them would face resistance of more than two thirds. Just like Alberto Valentim. Our current interim coach had a head start in relation to any newcomer, but is now out of the picture. Whichever successor is chosen will need the unrestricted backing of the club’s directors, resisting as hell breaks loose, over and over again, until that identity has been forged.

Without a footballing identity – or the will to create one – it matters little who takes over as coach: he will feel the moving sand at the first sequence of defeats, and be gone at the beginning of the second.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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It was in the cards. Last Thursday’s home draw to relegation-threatened Bahia, after leading two nil, saw coach Cuca’s dismissal. “By mutual agreement”, as the Palmeiras statement read on Friday afternoon.

cuca_211In 2016, Cuca guided Palmeiras to their first top-flight title in 22 years before stepping down for personal reasons. After a few months with Eduardo Baptista in command, Cuca was reappointed in May. The premature exit in the Libertadores Cup was followed by an equally disappointing Brazil Cup performance. Now, with plenty of time for training and rest, improvements were expected but Cuca and the squad failed to deliver. The lack of evolution gradually corroded confidence and both players and coach started to display certain listlessness. The ending is always the same: coach sacked. In this second spell at the club, Cuca led Palmeiras in 34 games, with 16 victories, 7 draws and 11 defeats: only 54% of the points available.  

Always a fierce critic of the constant coach swapping in Brazilian football, I have come to understand just how deeply entrenched in the system it is. Consider the latest turns at Palmeiras: Ricardo Gareca, 4 months; Dorival Júnior, 3 months; Oswaldo de Oliveira, 5 months; Marcelo Oliveira, 10 month; Cuca, 8 months (first spell); Eduardo Baptista, 5 months; Cuca, 5 months (second spell). A club might have the best of intentions, wanting to stick with a coach no matter what: the pressure, from everyone and everywhere, is overwhelming. Considering this, Cuca’s dismissal was well timed. Assisting coach Alberto Valentim immediately assumed, last Sunday leading Palmeiras to a 3-1 away victory against Atlético Goianense. With ten rounds to go, he should be able to keep Palmeiras in the top four, securing a spot in next year’s Libertadores.

That said, Valentim has virtually zero chance of receiving a permanent appointment. My sources say Palmeiras have locked sights on current Cruzeiro coach Mano Menezes, with previous spells at Grêmio, Corinthians, Flamengo and, in 2010-2012, Brazil’s national squad. The 55-year-old has been the name of choice of football director Alexandro Mattos for years. Seems discussions are already involving names of players Mano would like to see added to the Palmeiras squad in 2018. With that, planning for next season is well underway, which is fundamentally important.

To Cuca, eternal gratitude for the 2016 Brazilian championship title. Too bad things did not work out in the sequel. Best of luck in future endeavours!

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Interviewed in September of 2015, owner/president of Crefisa and Faculdade das Américas Leila Pereira refuted rumours she held intentions to become president of Palmeiras. “I cannot run for president now. I only recently became a member of the club and the statues say a person needs to have completed two mandates in the Deliberative Council [before being eligible for presidency]”, she told a reporter of Diário de São Paulo. Mrs Pereira knew she was looking at, at least, 16 years to fulfil any aspirations of the sort: eight years of club membership before eligible for the Deliberative Council, then two turns there, each mandate spanning four years.

No small surprise then when Mustafá Contursi, one of the club’s most senior oligarchs, in February of 2016 announced Leila Pereira was not only a club member, but had been so since 1996. Mr Contursi claims having made her an honorary member that year, while he was president of Palmeiras. However, no records of such an act have been found. And even if they were, the statutes does not give the club’s president the mandate to appoint honorary members at will: the procedure is actually fairly complicated, culminating in a decision taken by the plenary of the DC.

However, faced with the explicit threat of a non-renewal of the extremely lucrative sponsorship deal with Crefisa/FAM unless Mrs Pereria was allowed to run for a seat, newly elected Palmeiras president Maurício Galiotte granted Mr Contursi’s request for a revised entry date for Mrs Pereira. In Mr Galiotte’s thinking, the decision to bar Mrs Pereira was not his to make, but should be left to the DC, sometime after the voting (scheduled for early February) but before the newly elected took their seats in March. A few days after Mr Galiotte made his decision public, Palmeiras and Crefisa/FAM renewed their sponsorship agreement, worth an estimated 25% of Palmeiras’ total revenues in 2017-2018.

Why is having a political role at Palmeiras so important for Leila Pereira? Perhaps to please her husband and business partner José Roberto Lamacchia, a hard-core palmeirense (Pereira herself was born in Rio a Vasco supporter). Perhaps she enjoys the power rush. Perhaps it is in all the attention she receives while transiting from a very wealthy but anonymous businesswoman into someone who, in her own words, is recognized on the streets even outside of Brazil. Likely, there is a combination of the above and more; this unknown “more” factor making some of us rather nervous.

leila_mustafaIn any case, at the DC elections in February, Mrs Pereira did indeed run for a seat, as one of the candidates under Mustafá Contursi’s ticket. She was elected with a record 248 votes – several times the number she needed – and the extra votes spilled over to Mr Contursi, who thus reinforced his position in the DC with some 6-8 loyal names. In order to understand the impact of this, I quote Marcelo Santa Vicca: “The easiest way to understand how Mustafá Contursi’s head works is recognising he hates football and only cares for the social club”.

Today, 6 March, the Deliberate Council met to determine on the legitimacy of Mrs Pereira’s candidacy. On paper, a rather straightforward matter, one would think: void candidacy and therefore, void election. Nonetheless, she passed the trial like a breeze, only some 45 of the 228 gathered members of the DC opposing her inauguration.

The club´s statute was shredded in the most vulgar way. The immediate effect is the shame felt by many an honourable palmeirense, many of these outside the political sphere of the club. The medium to long-term effects are impossible to predict.

In addition to the above, the DC also elected two gentlemen as president and vice-president of the Council – Seraphim Del Grande and Carlos Faedo – both linked to Mr Contursi.

A moment of hesitation, and Palmeiras’ political landscape just recedes 15 years. Some thought the dragon had been slayed. It was not even sleeping.

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In Brazilian football in general, and at Palmeiras in particular, time is never on your side. Palmeiras maintained all key ingredients of last year’s successful mix, except for one: the coach. Cuca, for personal reasons, has taken a break from football. In mid-December, Eduardo Baptista was announced as his replacement for the 2017 season.

Baptista debuted in the Paulista state championship beating Botafogo/SP 1-0, then lost 1-0 away to Ituano. These results, and the rather poor football presented, was enough to have segments of Palmeiras supporters raise hell on social media and the ultras of Mancha Verde last Thursday, with the scorecard still at 0-0 against São Bernardo, chant “Hey, Eduardo, pay attention, we want championship titles!”, before requesting the return of Cuca. Palmeiras went on to beat São Bernardo 2-0, goals by Dudu and Jean.

The topic of the week has been “pressure”. Even a seasoned player like Michel Bastos says he was taken by surprise by the volume of demands for expressive results and progress this early in the season. Everyone at the club, from directors down to players, all say the same: implementing a new style of play takes time: the squad and Baptista need a few more weeks to make it work. The premature ruckus has of course been picked up by the media, only adding more heat.
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Although the São Paulo championship is a traditional tournament and obviously has its merits, one cannot deny that it primarily serves as a laboratory for modelling and tuning the squad ahead of the Brazilian championship, the Brazil Cup and international commitments (this year, in Palmeiras’ case, the Libertadores Cup). Being allowed a certain tranquillity at the beginning of the season, while conducting experiments, is crucial for the development of the team and the overall outcome throughout the year.

For some supporters, this is all bull. They feel performance is driven by pressure, and must surface quickly. More importantly, they stress their right to complain, as supporters, and as ticket holders. The effect of the pressure applied seems secondary to the right of exercising it: a curious standpoint from a segment who normally states “Palmeiras above everything” and “Eternal love”.

Last year, supporters filled the airport to wave off the squad ahead of an important away game. They also gathered outside the training facilities with flags, flares and instruments, players stepping off the bus to thank the crowds. A few weeks back, supporters in large numbers were at the airport a 6am to welcome Miguel Borja. The potential for supporters to influence outcomes, both positively and negatively, is a given.

Luckily, most seem to understand that Baptista and his men indeed need to be given time: while the ultras last Thursday expressed their dissatisfaction, a large majority of “regular” supporters at the Allianz Parque booed them down. 

We are less than two hours from kick-off. The team’s performance against Linense, away, will be the determining factor for any amount of tranquillity Baptista and the squad will enjoy ahead of next week’s derby against Corinthians.

Patience! Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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To what extent football clubs should strive to be agents for social inclusion, community development and civic spirit is a cultural and ideological question. We have touched upon the issue previously, in this article. In short, there is no right and wrong, only a sliding scale, based on personal and collective preferences.

The same cannot be said about human rights and civil liberties: these are guaranteed by the constitution of any democracy, as well as a number of international treaties. Human rights are absolute and universal, no sliding scale whatsoever. And although no country fulfil all human rights all the time, they do strive to do so, at least in discourse.

Violation of human rights cannot be tolerated, neither any relaxation of their legal status. The same applies to any arbitrary restriction of civil liberties.

This is why it is so important to thoroughly dissect and discuss what has been happening around the Allianz Parque on game days as of late. What used to be the area palmeirenses gravitated to – either on their way to the stadium or just for spending time with fellow palmeirenses eating, drinking, socialising, and watching the game in any of the local bars – has become a no-go zone for anyone not an Allianz Parque ticket holder.
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Early morning on game day, police set up barricades, creating an iron ring around the stadium and its immediate surroundings. You are only allowed access if you show your ID and a valid ticket to the game. The initiative is backed by a state of São Paulo public prosecutor, who claims the restriction on any citizen’s fundamental freedom of movement is necessary to secure law and order: the “unauthorised selling of street food” being one of the concerns, to “limit the number of thefts” another. The “welfare of residents” a third.

Remember, we are talking about a location where Brazil’s first official football championship, the Paulista of 1902, took place. A location always intimately linked with sports. A neighbourhood that organically developed around the stadium, not the other way around.

A new level of absurdity was reached last Sunday, when seven-year-old Maria Eduarda was barred from passing the checkpoint least she washed the paint off her face. Her father tried to argue against the interpretation of “no masked person is allowed entrance”, but to no use: the green and white, so proudly applied, was removed in a mix of water and tears.
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Supporters are protesting loudly, questioning both the legal aspects and the fact that the no-go zone is applied only to the Allianz Parque, no other stadium.

Palmeiras have not only, albeit discretely, approved the measures, but actually been collaborating, providing third-party staff to help police with the logistics of verifying IDs and tickets at checkpoints.

As frequently stated, Palmeiras is a club used to battle everything and everyone. In 1942, that included the very Government. Our directors need to take a good look in the mirror before siding with abusive, fascist practices.

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With uncharacteristic speed, the Superior Brazilian Tribunal of Sports settled the “external interference” matter of last week. Not surprisingly, there will be no rematch, and the three points have been returned to Flamengo. However, it is surprising that the Tribunal did not even rule on the claim. The president of the entity simply archived the case, justifying his decision with “Lip reading is not proof of anything, and the inspector of refereeing says he did nothing wrong, so… Case closed”.

Case closed, ladies and gentlemen. No investigation, no ruling. Straight to the archives.

The signal is clear: external interference will be tolerated. A precedence has been set. A precedence that is destined to change dynamics on the pitch. In dubious situations, we will see players huddle the referee and simply not allow the game to restart until someone somewhere, with access to a replay, gives the players a thumbs up or down.

“But Flamengo won on the pitch and football should be decided on the pitch, not by a tribunal”, many argue, including quite a lot of sports journalists. I strongly disagree. Flamengo did not win on the pitch, Flamengo drew on the pitch. Flamengo drew, because the referees allowed an offside goal for the opponent – something not uncommon and “part of the game”. The draw only turned into a win for Flamengo due to the external interference; the illegal, off-pitch interference. Where is the justice in that?

The game has changed. Not for the better. And it is all self-inflicted. Congratulations to everyone involved.

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